Middle East security expert Dr Michael Doran believes the approach by most Western nations, including Australia and New Zealand, to the dangers posed by Iran and its proxies is inadequate.
Doran was a former senior director in the US National Security Council responsible for a variety of Middle East issues during George W. Bush’s presidency. During his week-long AIJAC-sponsored visit to Australia and New Zealand – where he met with politicians, national security officials, media and interest groups – he emphasised the steps needed to contain Iran.
“I think there are three steps. Number one, we need to reach a global consensus, or at least a consensus in the West, that the restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program have to be permanent,” Doran said.
By contrast, both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have reiterated their support for the Iran nuclear deal ahead of the May 18 election.
This deal, which was rejected by the US in May 2018, only limits Iran’s nuclear program for a number of years. It has “sunset clauses” built in that allow Iran to resume key elements of its nuclear weapons development as soon as 2023.
Doran added: “The second thing is, we need to strengthen the economic sanctions against Iran. Bring their exports of oil as close to zero as possible to put maximum economic pressure on the regime.”
Yet the reality is that, in contrast to Doran’s warning, at the moment Australia’s trade with Iran is actually growing – in fact, the Australian Government has located an Austrade office in Teheran to encourage stronger economic ties.
According to the latest figures, trade between Australia and Iran increased by 17% from 2015 to 2016, when the nuclear deal was signed, and seven percent from 2016 to 2017. If it continues on its current trajectory, the trade relationship will soon be valued at half a billion dollars. By global standards, this is not overly significant, but it indicates Australia-Iran trade is growing, contrary to Doran’s advice and the logic of US strategy.
“Third, and this is the most difficult one to do, we need to develop a model to counteract the Iranian support for Hezbollah around the Middle East and around the globe – not just Hezbollah, but the Hezbollah model,” Doran said.
“Iran is using militias trained by Hezbollah to subvert regimes in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, and the West has not developed an effective counter to that.”
Doran joined a growing consensus of Middle East security experts arguing that, as well as sanctions, Iran’s influence needs to be countered from within, and institution-building is key. This is particularly pertinent in Lebanon, where Hezbollah dominates local politics and also domestic security via its enormous and well-resourced militia.
Sanctions and other diplomatic tools remain important though. To that end, Doran told audiences that placing only part of Hezbollah on a banned terrorist list – as Australia does – is unsatisfactory.
“The whole idea of not banning Hezbollah in its entirety is that there are different ‘wings’ of Hezbollah doing different things. But Hezbollah is a vulture and the wings of this beast are connected to the body and we have to deal with it as a whole,” Doran said.
“It’s a global terrorist organisation, there is just no question about it.”
The Australian Government currently only lists the Hezbollah External Security Organisation (ESO) on its terrorist register. This means Australians can potentially send money to support Hezbollah, fly Hezbollah flags on Australian streets and proselytise on the militant group’s behalf in Australian meeting halls.
A recent Government review of the listing chose to retain the limited ban, despite a recommendation from the Parliamentary Intelligence Committee to expand it to at least encompass Hezbollah’s complete “military wing”.
During his visit, Doran also used the opportunity to explain to local media the rationale behind US President Donald Trump’s decision to officially recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights on the border with Syria.
“It’s a recognition of reality,” he told ABC TV. “Everybody, including the Arab leaders who expressed opposition to the move, know that the Israelis are never going to give back the Golan Heights.”
He continued: “The Israelis’ control of the Golan Heights is a stabilising influence. When the Syrians controlled it, it destabilised the region, when the Israelis control it, it stabilises.” He also argued that, like moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, there were important US domestic political reasons for Trump’s Golan recognition decision, which was popular among Trump’s base.
Dr Doran appeared on Sky News’ “Outsiders” program, where he anticipated Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli election and previewed US President Donald Trump’s proposed peace plan.
“I think it will have a lot of economic elements, frankly, trying to build up the Palestinian Authority and reform its institutions, moving it towards autonomy, rather than trying to quickly get to a two-state solution because they know that the chance of getting a deal between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government is just about nil,” he told the program. “The question is, how do you do no harm? How do you get the best result in the absence of such a deal?”